jamessasek asked: <3 Froggie et al: Any tips on photography in super bright direct light? I'm talking the desert at midday. Everything is blown out in the bright parts and no detail is left in the shadows. For landscapes I've done bracketing and stitched but that's not ideal, especially for snapshots or portraits.
I’m afraid that is just a bad time of day for photography. The smaller the light source, the harder the light becomes. The sun is technically huge, but it is about as far away as it gets and in photography terms it is a pretty small, but very bright light source. When it is directly overhead, its light isn’t diffused very much by the atmosphere. Meaning shadows have very sharp edges, color saturation is kind of ugly, and it just makes pictures pretty blah in general.
Most pros will tell you that you should plan to take your shots early in the morning or a bit before sunset. But sometimes you don’t really have a choice when you take the picture, so you have to figure out ways to make a compelling image despite the challenge of the harsh light.
One thing to try is a circular polarizer. This will make the skies bluer and increase contrast and saturation.
Sometimes black and white can really take advantage of the high contrast of that kind of lighting. You can also try an infrared filter to give it a different effect.
Another option is HDR. Not the weird disco LSD HDR. There is a method sometimes referred to as “detail enhancement.” This will make your textures pop and give your image a little extra something that counteracts the blah-ness.
And if there are clouds, you might try doing a super long exposure using a small aperture and a very strong ND filter. This will cause some cool streaking that is pretty nifty.
You can actually use flash in the day time. The problem is that you are competing with the sun, and in the desert that can be tricky. There are flash brackets that allow you to put three flashes on at once. Shoot that through an umbrella and you get a nice soft light on your subject, and the background goes all dark and dramatic. This video by Matt Granger is a pretty good demonstration.
A cheaper solution is to get a large scrim. This is basically a translucent white material that will soften the sunlight. Hold it over top your subject and you can counteract the hard light of the sun. Then get a nice reflector and bounce sunlight off of it to give your subject a nice warm glow. This is really cool because with two cheap accessories you can control the sun.
Good to know.